A member of Bahrain’s ruling family has received a two-year ban from the FEI Tribunal after her mount tested positive for a banned substance after an Italian endurance race a year ago.
Sheikha Najla Bint Salman Al Khalifa’s horse, Salahdin Du Lauragais, tested positive for the long-acting sedative reserpine, after the 120km 2* star ride in Verona San Martino Buon Albergo in July last year.
Al Khalifa was also fined 2000 Swiss francs and ordered to contribute 1000 Swiss francs towards the costs of the judicial procedure.
The tribunal, comprising Jane Mulcahy, QC, Pierre Ketterer and Dr Armand Leone, traversed the facts in the case, saying that the horse, Salahdin Du Lauragais, was selected for sampling during the event.
A blood sample subsequently tested positive for reserpine, which is classified as a banned substance under the FEI’s anti-doping rules.
The FEI Legal Department officially notified the sheikha of the positive drug finding through the Bahrain Royal Equestrian and Endurance Federation.
On November 10 last year, Al Khalifa provided her explanations for the positive finding. It included a statement from the team director.
He explained that the team had launched an inquiry in co-operation with the local law enforcement agency in Bahrain and that the culprit had been identified.
It was explained that, on October 14, 2014, the horse’s trainer, Narendra Singh, had confessed in an interrogation at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) to having injected the horse with reserpine in the first or second week of July last year.
Singh had done so because of a “personal grudge” against Al Khalifa’s family over employment issues, which had occurred before his work with the team.
Al Khalifa traversed the circumstances and argued that exceptional circumstances existed in the case.
She argued that, while she did not dispute the positive drug finding, she was “absolutely innocent”. The real person responsible was Singh, the trainer of the horse which she had borrowed for the event.
Her equestrian endurance career had been brought to an end, she said, and her profile as an exemplary equestrian endurance rider and a role model for potential Bahraini women riders, as well as all her hard work, had been destroyed.
The FEI, in its response 18 days later, noted that Al Khalifa had not provided any confirmatory statement by Singh, nor any documentation or evidence regarding the apparent investigation.
In response, Bahraini equestrian officials said the law enforcement report had been prepared in Arabic, and it was against the law and unconstitutional to distribute or translate any signed statement or document used in a police investigation.
However, after repeated requests by Bahrain equestrian officials, the relevant authority had provided a translation of the original document for the national federation’s reference only.
The federation nevertheless decided to submit an English translation of the report, with its credentials, for the case at hand.
However, the translation was submitted on blank paper without any form of letterhead and did not contain any signature of a representative of the law enforcement agency, or reference to an official translation service.
In the statement, Singh affirmed that he had given the horse 10ml of reserpine, having seen it as an opportunity to exact revenge for his previous issues with Al Khalifa’s family.
He said he had done so without thinking of the consequences.
The FEI remained unmoved, arguing that Al Khalifa had still not established the source of the reserpine to its satisfaction.
The FEI further argued that, insofar as none of the documents submitted by Al Khalifa were signed, including her own statement, their authenticity was questionable.
Bahrain’s national federation responded that the laws in the country did not permit it to copy or procure a copy of a legally binding document, including all authenticity marks (stamps, seals, signatures), in order for it to be used in legal proceedings outside the country.
A preliminary hearing followed on May 7, during which Al Khalifa explained that she did not usually ride for the team, and that the horse in question had been assigned to her. Before the event she had asked whether the horse had any prohibited substances in its system.
She could not have discovered that somebody had administered something to the horse, since she had no dealings with the animal before the event, she argued.
However, the FEI stuck to its view that the sheikha had not satisfactorily established the source of the reserpine, nor had she provided conclusive evidence for any type of sabotage or conspiracy.
The FEI again pointed out that the documentation submitted was not signed or printed on paper with an official letterhead. Further, no certified translation of the investigation report had been provided.
It was the FEI’s view that she had not done enough to establish a “No (Significant) Fault or Negligence” defence.
On May 8, the Bahrain equestrian federation submitted an amended English translation of Singh’s statement in which, among other things, he provided the commercial name of the product he administered.
The FEI, in further submissions, sought advice from a Bahrain law firm, which saw no problems in sharing formal documents in Bahrain with a third party. It saw no issues with translations either, provided they were attached to the original stamped Arabic document.
The FEI also identified apparent anomalies with the Indian passport of Singh provided by the Bahrain federation.
The tribunal, in reaching its decision, described Singh’s admission as neither convincing nor satisfactory.
“First, the tribunal doubts the authenticity of the documentation concerning the source of the reserpine, for the reasons as underlined by the FEI,” the panel said.
“In the absence of any credible explanation, the tribunal therefore finds that the Person Responsible [Al Khalifa] has not established, by a balance of probability, how the reserpine entered the horse’s system.”
Even if the tribunal had accepted that Al Khalifa had established the source of the reserpine, it was of the view that she had not established that she bore “No (Significant) Fault or Negligence” for the violation.
It was her personal duty to ensure that no banned substance was present in the horse’s body at any stage, the tribunal said.
The fact the horse was assigned to her only shortly before the event, and that she had not had anything else to do with the horse, did not release her from her obligations under the anti-doping rules, it said, citing the strict liability principle.
There was no basis for the tribunal to eliminate or reduce the otherwise applicable sanctions under the rules. It therefore imposed a two-year suspension.
Al Khalifa will have her provisional suspension, which has been in place since September 29, 2014, credited against the two-year suspension. She has 30 days to appeal the tribunal’s ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.